Disaffected company heirs, Leif and Leyland Topps (played by the Sklar Brothers – creators of hit web series Layers) aim to preserve the spirit of the company they love with a webshow full of that signature droll.
The show is a card-collector’s dream, with guest appearances from droves of athletes, but it’s a funny and charming story even for the nonfan. It premiered today on FoxSports.com and will be available beginning tomorrow at BackOnTopps.com.
We had the pleasure of talking to the Sklar Brothers about their newest series…
Tilzy.TV: How’d you two get involved with Back on Topps?
Sklar Bros: We are close friends with author Brad Meltzer since our days together at The University of Michigan. He helped create a show that existed a few years ago on the WB called Jack and Bobby, along with Steven Cohen. Steven went on to work closely with Michael Eisner at his production company developing new projects for television and the web.
Steven knew about us through Brad, as well as through our show Cheap Seats on ESPN Classic, and we even met while we were still shooting Cheap Seats. Steven planted the seed that Eisner was interested in creating original content for the web and TV for his new production company and that Steven was a fan of Cheap Seats and a particular special in which we went on a quest to get, Cardinal’s utility player, Jose Oquendo into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
At the time we were too busy with Cheap Seats to do anything with Eisner’s company, but after the series ended, and after we had done [“(Layers)”], Steven let us know that Micheal had purchased the Topps trading card company and that he was interested in doing a sports entertainment web series for Topps. Steven had shown Michael our web series [“(Layers)”] and Michael really liked it, as well as Cheap Seats and wanted us to come up with something for Topps. The result was a narrative comedy series that blended some of the elements of both [“(Layers)”] and Cheap Seats.
Tilzy.TV: Did you collect baseball cards as kids?
Sklar Bros: We most definitely collected baseball cards as kids, and football cards too. And hockey cards come to think of it. We’re still waiting for Bass Fishing Cards – that sport is filled with so many iconic heroes.
Sklar: We never put them in the spokes of our bikes, mainly because we owned the word’s only tandem unicycle and the spokes were too big, but we did trade them with friends.
Also, when we were 16 and Randy accidentally drove over a median in our mother’s maroon Pontiac 6000., we sold a bunch of our cards to fix the damage without our parents knowing. It was a sad day, parting with our Tom Seaver rookie at a card store in order to get the money to pay Flavio down at the garage for a ruptured muffler.
T.TV: You still have them now?
Sklar: The cards are still in our parents’ basement in shoeboxes. And on a recent trip home Jason reached into a box of cards and pulled out, randomly, a Julio Franco 1984. During the shooting of this Topps series, our characters, Leyland and Leif, go on a vision quest to get a 50 year old Julio Franco back into baseball, and we got to meet Julio, a wonderful man. Holding this card that was a part of our lives 24 years earlier, really drove home the longevity of this guy’s career and gravity of our character’s quest.
T.TV: What was/is your most prized card?
Sklar: We often vacillated between loving the old standards – our 1958 Stan Musial, or of course our 1959 Sandy Koufax (as Jews, if you don’t idolize Sandy Koufax, they reverse your circumcision – it’s very painful we hear) and loving the afro’s and silly names of unknown players like Dick Pole.
T.TV: Writer David Roth imagines the Topps company to be a “gum-scented, Willy Wonkafied dream palace” filled with wonderful bits and pieces of America’s favorite pastime. What’s it like in Back on Topps?
Skylar: That’s pretty much it. That, and some cubicles.
T.TV: I watched the previews and I see a hint of Layers (i.e. trash compactor compacting a trash compactor). How much of Layers is in Back on Topps?
Sklar: There are definitely traces of Layers in Back on Topps – certainly the meta premise of these fictional brothers Leyland and Leif Topps thinking that their Uncle Marvin is going to give them the company, but instead are crushed when Marvin decides to sell Topps to Michael Eisner – gives a subtle nod to Layers, because Michael did purchase the company in real life.
Michael was a fan of [“(Layers)”] and we are very happy that he was a good sport and agreed to let us weave him into the fabric of the show. We love when art can imitate life and lines are blurred between fact and fiction.
T.TV: How much of Cheap Seats is in the show?
Sklar: The spirit of not taking sports too seriously, a spirit that drove a show like Cheap Seats, is definitely alive and well in this series. Part of what we set out to do in a show like Cheap Seats was to create something that was of the highest level of comedy that we could achieve. Not to simply say, well it’s sports and comedy show so that should be enough to get people to want to watch, rather to say, this show is pure comedy and the world of sports is just the backdrop.
We used the same philosophy with Back on Topps. We figure if the comedy is purely funny, then sports can be the universe in which the comedy lives. That way, you don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy the show, you just need to enjoy laughing. Because essentially, Back on Topps, is a show about two brothers who love what they do, but who’s ineptness may just keep them from triumphing over soulless corporate directives.
T.TV: Do you approach working on web series any different to working on TV shows? How so?
Sklar: It’s a paradox of freedom and constraints. You have much more freedom in the ways you can tell a story, but you have much less time to tell your story. In television, certainly in the half hour narrative format, there is a tendency to need to wrap up storylines.
But on the web not everything needs to be tied up in a neat little bow. The goal is simply to tell most of a story, quickly and to get at least 3 to 5 big laughs in a few minutes. If you can pull that off, and have people invest in the characters then you are doing alright.
T.TV: Who was your favorite athlete to work with on the show?
Skylar: Wow, that is tough. So many athletes have come to play on this series and made it a lot of fun. Kevin Love, of the Minnesota Timberwolves, was hilarious. He improvised something new, and funny on every take. Baron Davis, of the LA Clippers, was actually a very talented and comfortable actor – look out Rick Fox! Greg Oden of the Portland Trailblazers was super funny, as was Big Papi David Ortiz of the Red Sox, Dennis Rodman kind of sexually harassed on of our actresses, who rolled with it beautifully and the whole interaction made it into the show which was so funny, and David Robinson was amazing too.
Most of these guys had an awareness of us through Cheap Seats, so they knew what our humor was about and they came ready to play. It’s so funny, you think of athletes as being older and out of touch because they are our heroes and so physically not like us. And yet, at heart, they’re kids in their 20’s and 30’s who watch TV and listen to music and who are consumers just like us.
T.TV: Anything else we should know?
Sklar: We’ve poured a lot of ourselves into this show and if you have half as much fun watching it as we had making it, you’re going to love it.